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Oct. 12, 2010
TEAM CLIF BAR Climber Dean Potter Recounts Free Solo Climb of Yosemite’s Half Dome
As the light of the seasons begins to change, days are shorter, shadows grow longer, and the prime time to climb comes to life! Here is an historic personal account by TEAM CLIF BAR's Dean Potter and his 1998 Speed Solo of Half Dome. Though this climb is one of the past, the imagery, the sentiments and the sensations awakened are truly timeless. Climb on Dean!

Entranced by the flight of a raven, I watch its shadow move effortlessly against golden, shimmering granite. I long to be that free, flying above the cluttered world of normalcy, where so many are half alive. Lately I am absorbed with thoughts of the pastor of what I’m hoping to do.

I stare at Half Dome, watching the shadow from the setting sun race up its sheer face. Cool air floods the valley floor and smells of evening call me to my bivy site and sleep. Still, the image of the black bird soars throughout my dreams.

Dean Potter Conquers Half Dome
Photo by Renan Ozturk

Morning comes, and I am sure. I grab my carefully readied equipment, and head towards the Northwest Regular Route, on Half Dome. Clouds drift over the peaks, and in the forest I am misted with slight drops of rain. Emotions and wants rush in, but I concentrate on each breath and quiet my mind.

My legs effortlessly take me up the smooth water polished slabs, past wild flowers at the end of their bloom, to the base of the wall. Fog overtakes the cliff as I walk below it, and the unstable weather frees me from the expectation of soloing the two thousand foot wall.

I near the route and see a team rappelling off, from about half way up. I sit calmly watching them retreat and stare at the intricacies of the face, following the black water streaks to the top. The clouds are thinning.

I become completely immersed in my senses…the smell of damp rock, the heat rising off my body, creating steam as it meets the chilled air, the hum of the wind as it hits the wall, and, most powerfully, my instinct to climb.

I’ve thought about speed soloing Half Dome for many years, yet as my hands reach out and touch the opening holds, no thought registers in my mind. I feel my fingers take every lock perfectly and I move without fear, because falling is not within my reality.

Absolutely focused on my connection with the rock, I barely notice the party of two rappelling twenty feet to my side. Their foreign questions float in the air, they disappear into the fog below me. I calm myself with a mantra from a favorite song, and repeat, “I’m invisible, I’m invisible, I’m invisible…" I leave the ground behind.

I exit the shaded chimney, two thirds of the way up the face. Any uncertainty I have is released with the sight of the sun pushing over the top and the clouds magically lifting. A raven call emerges in my throat and leaves my open mouth. Life pulses in my veins.

Though I acknowledge the delicateness of my existence, I flow confidently through the insecure crux, the Zig Zags. The pads of my feet gluing to the textured rock, my fingers securely clamping whatever they touch, I consciously drive out pressing anticipation of completion as I crawl across Thank God Ledge and scramble to the summit.

Calmly spinning, I scan as far away as I can see. The last rays of the day’s sun warm my back and my stare locks onto my own shadow. I follow the lines of my body on the stone in front of me, spreading my arms as wings, and bathe in the beauty of existence.
Posted by:
B Cole
Team Clif Bar

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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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